Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why nuclear energy is not the solution to climate change

February 1, 2007: Faced with unrelenting local and global pressure over climate change, Prime Minister John Howard punches the nuclear power button almost every time he opens his mouth these days. His recent taskforce, looking at alternatives to fossil-fuel, yet stacked with nuclear industry proponents, announced over New Year 2007 that uranium mining be expanded and that nuclear energy is a viable option for Australia.

But nuclear power is not an answer to climate change...

If the argument is about greenhouse gases, Peter Bradford, former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says that: even if nuclear is fast-tracked over all other energy prospects, nuclear cannot provide more than 10-15% of greenhouse gas displacement likely to be needed by 2050.

Bradford says: "Not only can nuclear power not stop global warming, it is probably not even an essential part of the solution to global warming."

Extensive studies have shown that humans urgently need to shift to cleaner, safer energy sources to tackle the challenge of debilitating global climate change. And according to Friends of the Earth, there is no case for nuclear power to be part of the future energy mix. The environmental organisation said in November 2006, that nuclear power was a "dangerous distraction" from the safe solutions to the global crisis of climate change.

Globally, nuclear power currently supplies around three per cent of global energy - albeit at massive economic and environmental cost. Yet Friends of the Earth say renewable energy sources can supply considerably more than the International Energy Agency's highest global energy forecasts.

There are vast solar energy resources in Australia's deserts, for example, which can be converted to electricity by simple and safe mirror-based technologies. Globally, these could generate power on a scale of between ten and hundred times greater than any feasible nuclear expansion. And this technology is available right now.

Yet John Howard regurgitates the uranium industry line that nuclear power is "clean and green," when it is simply not true.

Nuclear power is not good for greenhouse gas reduction, because it requires huge amounts of fossil fuels - for mining, milling and enrichment of uranium. Furthermore, nuclear energy is dependent on the concentration of the uranium ore - and as more uranium is used, the quality of ore is depleted. According to recent analysis, even with high-grade ore, it would take 10 years to "pay back" the energy used in construction and fuelling of a typical reactor. And with lower-grade ore - if nuclear power were to be widely expanded - the net emissions would be far greater than a gas power station. Other studies show that uranium reserves would be depleted within 5-10 years if used to replace Coal as an energy source globally.

Water is also an issue in the nuclear energy cycle, consuming millions of litres of water to produce any fuel. Yet many towns and shires across Australia are struggling to get enough drinking water - let alone enough to satisfy the amount a nuclear station would need to guzzle. This is water that we simply cannot afford as chronic drought and looming climate change dry up water supplies in this country.

There is also the perpetual issue of nuclear waste. The nuclear industry is a producer of highly toxic, radioactive and hazardous waste. Yet in over 50 years, scientists have still not found a viable solution to the ongoing problem of radioactive waste. Nuclear power stations produce the most dangerous industrial wastes known to humankind. Reports estimate that even without expansion, by 2015 there will be roughly 250,000 tonnes to deal with. Beyond the waste issue, radioactive leaks continue. Since Chernobyl in 1986, more than 22 serious leaks have been documented. There are far greater safety issues involved with nuclear energy than any other method of generating power.

In terms of economic efficiency, nuclear power is the most expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power is not economically viable without significant government subsidies. It is well known that the nuclear energy industry is heavily subsidised by taxpayers across the planet. Canada for example has a 4 billion dollar debt attributed to nuclear energy. And the USA provides direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalling $115 billion, with a further $145 billion of indirect subsidies.

But similar support has not been forthcoming for renewable energy. If the money invested in nuclear and fossil fuel subsidies were spent on energy efficiency and developing renewable energy sources - perhaps we would be much closer to meeting our needs at a far lower cost to the environment and power consumers.

Wind power, for example, is the fastest growing energy source in the world, and is far cheaper than nuclear. For the same investment, wind generates more electricity, and offers more jobs. Renewable energy is getting cheaper the more we produce in Australia. In recent years, over 6,000 megawatts of wind generation have been installed every year in Europe. This is the equivalent of three nuclear power plants.

Australians want renewable energy. A National Poll in 2003 found that 76% of respondents would pay an additional 5% on their energy bills for a 10% increase in renewable energy - when the alternative was cheap energy at any environmental cost.

Professor Ian Lowe, Australian Conservation Foundation President says, "be in no doubt: renewable energy works. Renewables now account for a quarter of the installed capacity of California, a third of Sweden's energy, half of Norway's and three-quarters of Iceland's. It is time we joined the clean energy revolution sweeping the progressive parts of the world," he said. "Renewables can meet Australia's energy demands. Just 15 wind farms could supply enough power for half the homes in NSW," said Professor Lowe.

Fitting solar panels to just half the houses in Australia could supply 7% of all our electricity needs, including industry needs - enough in fact for the whole of Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Currently, nuclear is a marginal energy source, supplying a small percent of the world energy demand.

Nuclear energy only produces electricity and can not replace petrol or diesel as fuel for cars, trucks, ships and planes - road transport is currently the source of 22% of carbon dioxide emissions, and aviation is the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions.

Nuclear power is not a sustainable energy source - it is greenhouse intensive, it is costly, dangerous, and produces toxic waste which hangs around for hundreds of thousands of years.

But don't let John Howard distort and polish the dubious reality of nuclear power, find out for yourself...

Sources:
- Media Release - FOE
- International Energy Agency
- Professor Ian Lowe. National Press Club, October 19, 2005
- Nuclear Power - Dr Helen Caldicott
- Boston Globe
- John Busby
- Sustainable Development Commission

1 comment:

Dezakin said...

You I guess dont realize every time a nuclear plant is blocked its replaced with coal. Not solar or wind... coal.